Being a make-up artist is a challenge. Being a colorblind make-up artist is a conquest.
Toby Derrig found out he was colorblind in first grade when he accidentally colored a Texas Longhorn green and almost got sent to the “time out chair” for messing around. That led to a doctor’s appointment where he was diagnosed with extreme deuteranopia. Derrig was colorblind.
“The kind of colorblindness I was diagnosed with is a red-green color deficiency so the cones in my eyes don’t read those colors very well,” explains Derrig. “I still see color but it is muted. The best way I like to describe it is if you’re editing a photo and you start to pull the saturation away to where the colors are faded but not just black and white.”
The news made Derrig wonder how it would impact his career choice. And it hurt when people told him he couldn’t be a police officer or pilot, but it felt especially devastating when they told him he couldn’t be an artist. So Derrig defied them all and became an artist.
The make-up artist element began when he was in junior high, when he took a college art course. “The class challenged me to do different things that were outside of the box,” says Derrig. “When it came time for my senior art show I wanted something in my showcase that was different from the rest, so I chose living art. I decided to do a mermaid look on one of my friends and have her sit at my display. The response I received from people was overwhelming, and it inspired me to keep pushing forward and continue following this path.”
Derrig pushed forward by learning from tutorials on YouTube and his own experimentation. He is entirely self-taught. “There’s been a lot of trial and error in my learning process but that has led to some crazy ideas that ended up looking pretty cool. I would love to someday go to a school to further my knowledge; I’m always looking for ways to push things to the next level.”
At first being colorblind was discouraging to Derrig, to his career and his ambitions. It didn’t help that he was often called “stupid” when he mistook one color for another, or when asking someone for assistance identifying a color. Or when the realization that he was colorblind would lead people to compare him to a dog. Or perhaps the most trying for its banality: the color quiz, when after realizing he is colorblind people begin pointing to colors to see if he knows them.
But Derrig continued to find creative solutions to work with his colorblindness. “Thankfully,” Derrig says, “I have a large artistic family background, so we found ways to work around it. When I was first learning color, my mom would take all of my coloring books and turn them into color by number, so I would have to learn to read each color before actually seeing the color. Ever since then I’ve worked hard and studied color theory to try and understand how what I can see can be used to create amazing artwork for normal color vision people. So, with all of the support I’ve been able to stick to the art industry with just a few added challenges that are sometimes a pain but pushing through is worth it for the end results.”
One of the biggest challenges of being a colorblind make-up artist are the palettes, whether it’s face paint, eyeshadow or foundation. “Basically, all palettes,” explains Derrig. Palettes are usually set up in gradients of color. The challenge here is that when the blues and purples, greens and browns or red and browns are placed next to each other, distinguishing between them can be near impossible for Derrig—especially when colors aren’t named for the color but rather a creative name like “Delicate Drift” or “Space Bunny.” To remedy this, Derrig’s sister writes the colors next to each product in his palettes. “If it’s browns and beige colors she would write what the undertone of the shade is,” Derrig further explains.
Getting booked for jobs is also a challenge due to many not understanding what it means to be a colorblind make-up artist. “When people are looking for someone to hire, then they find out I’m colorblind at first, it puts a bad taste in their mouth. So, I then have to network and push a little harder to be looked at as a professional make-up artist that is good enough for each job.”
Despite all the challenges that comes with the career path, Derrig loves what he does and wouldn’t have chosen any other path. He loves inspiring others and says, “I love being a positive influence on someone who thinks they can’t do it. Even if its someone who isn’t colorblind but is discouraged about art or make-up, showing people that if the cards are stacked against you, if your heart is in it and you put in the work, you can achieve great things.
“When people see my work and then later find out that I’m colorblind, their reactions validate all the hard work that I’ve put in. It shows that those people who said I couldn’t do it, they were wrong and that’s how it is with anyone. If you’re just starting out and maybe your blending techniques aren’t that great, but if the work is put in and with practice you will get better, there’s no doubt. I will never stop learning and pushing. If I was able to get better, so will others. Wise words from Salvador Dalí were, ‘Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.’ Once you get rid of the fear from being ‘perfect’ and do what you want and what you think is beautiful, that’s when you best succeed.”